Potpourri: Disappearing Newspapers – and YOU: Our changing culture
Some thoughts as we watch the newspaper business shrink.
In North Carolina, where I reside, during the titanic clash between Governor and Democrat Jim Hunt and Republican Senator Jesse Helms for Helms’ seat in 1984 I reported all their campaign appearances in the region where I worked and was troubled. As each candidate exaggerated the other’s record I found it hard to discern the truth even from up-close. If facts were elusive to me what were voters to think? Fortunately print reporters probed behind the press conferences, releases, and ads. My best TV efforts broke the surface while print folks’ time-consuming work dug deep.
Also where would NC be without intrepid news diggers? Might wrongly convicted Darryl Hunt (subject of an HBO documentary) still be in prison, sterilized minority victims of the old state eugenics program be invisible and recent state mental health and parole mistakes unknown? Such reporting is an expensive investment for now nose-diving newspapers. Without these investigators where would we learn what is truly happening in courthouses, town halls, police departments, and legislatures? On the national scene where newspapers are also hurting, must we get information from cable TV news where opinionated anchors win viewers but taint overall objectivity? (During rumor-mongering in the 2008 presidential campaign didn’t you occasionally hunger for honest brokers of information without personal views? Didn’t a little voice in your head sometimes ask, “Is this a fair representation of the facts?”)
What will happen when journalists who also blog lose their reporting jobs? Will they still have resources and time to dig? Will the information center shift more toward social media like Facebook or text message-like technologies such as Twitter? I’m serious. Israel gave a press conference on the battle with Hamas via Twitter and said literally, “Ovr 500 rockts Hit IL in the 6 mts of CF. per the last 72 hrs mre thn 300 hit IL. kiling 4 ppl & injuring hndrds.”
Now a personal bias: I believe you miss details reading news online especially on a Blackberry or cell phone. Finer points escape. Also, when website scanning it’s easier to skip articles you’d probably read if physically turning a page. The Internet certainly has speed, limitless words and pictures and now The New York Times is promising rapid posting of online commentary to match the pace. Speed, however, isn’t synonymous with wisdom. Some news and thoughts need time to be wrapped in context and reflection.
And yet! And yet, as my generation and I fret about waning newspapers perhaps we should go back to the future and trust that the news revolution will self correct. After all, like most of today’s blogs, early newspapers were opinionated by design. Facts were suspect. Despite a lack of so-called objective journalism for almost 150 years our democracy flourished. Americans with unreliable information still seemed to sense the larger truths. (Today’s media armada has hardly inoculated us from disaster. We had 9/11, invaded Iraq, and self-destructed economically even with a wealth of information.) Perhaps true leadership and common sense are not fact-dependent. Besides, all decisions are of necessity made with incomplete data.
Furthermore, while the Internet has passed newspapers as a preferred news choice, all media, regardless of form, must meet our wants and needs to be successful. If enough of us want reliable information and in-depth journalism then they must eventually provide it whether on IPhone, Blackberry or paper. We’ll probably do fine, but I still prefer my newspaper.